ATHENS – Mike Bobo’s South Georgia sense of humor is still well intact. Acknowledging that he’s not moving around on the sideline quite as well as he once did, the Colorado State head coach deadpanned, “yeah, but I never had much mobility anyway.”
Georgia fans who watched Bobo sling the football around for the Bulldogs in the 1990s will certainly second that. But, joking aside, Bobo is dealing with a fairly serious situation health-wise these days. That’s the reason the 44-year-old coach was hobbling around Saturday night like a senior citizen who’s had double knee replacements. Think Bobby Cox on a mound visit for the Atlanta Braves in the twilight of his managerial career.
But Bobo wasn’t worried about how he looked this past Saturday. What was important to Bobo was how his team played against the Arkansas Razorbacks and that he was standing there with them.
For a while, that didn’t look too good either. The Rams, already 0-2 on the young season, trailed their SEC visitors 27-9 late in the third quarter. But then Colorado State mounted a comeback for the ages. The Rams out-scored Arkansas 25-0 over the final 22 minutes and scored the winning touchdown with eight seconds to play for an exhilarating 34-27 victory.
The postgame scene demonstrated the emotional tax that came due at the end. Bobo choked up when greeted by his wife Lainie and their four children. He cried again as he embraced his father, George Bobo, in an extended hug. Each one of his players took turns doing the same. It was a full-blown lovefest.
This wasn’t about a Mountain West team prevailing against an SEC team. This was about all those things coaches preach to their players every day about toughness and perseverance and never giving up.
Bobo was still buzzing about it when reached on the phone in Fort Collins, Colo., Wednesday afternoon.
“I received almost 500 texts from people congratulating us,” Bobo said. “A lot of them were Georgia people. Some of them saw the game, some people just saw the score, but the outpouring was truly incredible. But I’m just really happy for our team. You’re 0-2 and you’ve got an SEC team coming to town and the kids go out and fight like they did and never gave up, that’s something you’re proud of as a coach.”
In their coach, there was a lot for which the Rams to be proud as well. Most men wouldn’t have attempted what Bobo was doing. Those of us in the real world wouldn’t have been working. We’d have been laid up in a hospital or at home convalescing from a serious illness that brings with it some serious pain.
In fact, Bobo did spend 10 days in a Ft. Collins hospital – right in the middle of preseason camp — when this malady first befell him. At that point, Bobo and his doctors didn’t know what was going on. All he knew was that he lost the feeling in, first, one of his feet, then both, and later one of his arms as well.
Initially, Bobo thought it must have something to do with the knee-replacement surgery he had undergone earlier in the year. But it soon became clear that couldn’t be the case.
Thanks goodness, Bobo and his family know what he’s dealing with now. Without going into too many medical details, it’s something called “peripheral neuropathy,” and it apparently was brought on by an auto-immune disorder.
Bobo said they have a handle on it now. He has been prescribed medicine that is helping and he is getting weekly treatments and rehab. He is on the road to recovery.
In the meantime, Bobo is having to deal with some incredibly intense pain as a result of nerve damage and he has a very difficult time getting around.
“I still don’t look great, but it is what it is right now,” Bobo said. “It is getting better and I just have to take it day-by-day while the nerves regenerate. It just takes time.”
So, he’s had to make adjustments.
For the time being, Bobo is not calling plays for the Rams. He has sublet that responsibility to quarterbacks coach Ronnie Letson. And he’s not at the football complex every hour of every day as he normally would be this time of year. He has go to doctor and physical rehabilitation appointments.
During games, Bobo a designated red-zone timeout coach since he can’t run to the far end of the field to do so himself. But otherwise he’s at his normal station on the sideline and communicating with his staff via headset. And Bobo said he still installs the game plan each week, conducts all the team meetings and sets the message and agenda for the Rams.
That represents an improvement from the first game. Bobo coached from the press box in the opener against Hawaii. In Game 2, when he made the move to the sideline but coached in excruciating pain in what would end up being an excruciatingly painful loss to Colorado.
Through it all, though, Bobo has maintained an upbeat disposition.
“That’s been the most incredible thing about the whole ordeal,” said Paul Kirk, Colorado State assistant athletic director for communications. “Coach Bobo has just been so positive the whole time. I truly believe his unwavering positivity has rubbed off on the team and that’s why they were able to do what they did Saturday.”
“It’s not that big of a deal,” Bobo insisted. “There’s a lot of people out there dealing with things that are a lot worse than what I’m dealing with. … I still can’t feel my feet right now, but I can walk and I can talk and I can coach and mentally I’m fine.”
He may be the Head Ram now, but Bobo remains a Bulldog in his heart. He grew up a fan in Thomasville, lettered for the Bulldogs from 1995-98 and coordinated the offense and coached quarterbacks from 2001-14. So he keeps up with his alma mater, especially now that the team coached by one of his closest friends.
Kirby Smart and Bobo are lifelong friends who grew up just down the road from each other in South Georgia. They’re both sons of high school coaches, were teammates at UGA and battled as SEC assistant coaches for a decade.
Bobo said Smart has been in communication with him “every week” since this mysterious illness befell his buddy. Of course, Smart’s text was one of the first Bobo received this past Saturday in the minutes following that unlikely victory over Arkansas 1,500 miles away.
“I told him, ‘you better never count a Bobo out,’” Smart shared after one of the Bulldogs’ practices this week. “I’ve been in many battles with him, against him and with him. … To see what he’s endured and his family’s endured, it’s been amazing. To go through two losses like he had and then to come back and beat an SEC opponent to win it, … don’t ever count him out, I can promise you that. He’s a great football coach and a really good person.”
Nobody back here on the home front will disagree with that.
There is no rest for the weary, as they say. Fresh of that resounding win over Arkansas, the Rams will come all the way across the country this Saturday to play Florida. It’s the end of the three-game buyout deal the Gators made with Colorado State to steal away Jim McElwain.
Never-minding how that worked out for Florida, it will present yet another tremendous challenge for Bobo and his charges.
“Two SEC teams back-to-back, I don’t know how smart that is. As a coach you worry about getting beat up a little bit, because SEC teams are a little bigger, a little stronger, a little faster. And here we are three (games) in a row against Power 5s. So you worry about your depth a little bit, because you know your boys are going to go out there and fight their tails off.”
Obviously they’re just following the lead of their coach.